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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

June 10, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 9

State should drop appeal of same-sex marriage decision

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen feels obligated to try to block Friday’s federal court ruling overturning Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, so he asked two federal courts to stay the decision.

Instead, Wisconsin authorities should follow the lead of Pennsylvania, where a Republican governor last month said he would not appeal a similar ruling in that state. Gov. Tom Corbett had wanted to fight the ruling but then decided that he likely would lose an appeal. Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, already had declined to appeal the ruling, saying the state’s ban was unconstitutional.

Van Hollen and Gov. Scott Walker should realize how rapidly the sand has shifted under their feet on this issue. In fact, the debate is nearly over, and their side is losing it.

In 2006, Wisconsin voters emphatically voted to ban same-sex marriage and anything like it. But a Marquette Law School poll, released May 21, found 55% of registered voters statewide now favor allowing gay marriage, while 37% oppose it and 6% say they do not know. (An informal and unscientific poll over the weekend at JSOnline garnered similar results.)

The nation as a whole is experiencing a similar rapid and fundamental shift in opinion.

But beyond the shift reflected by opinion polls, there is a fundamental question of equal rights. Would Van Hollen and Walker defend a state ban on interracial marriages? On marriages between Catholics and Lutherans? Between Republicans and Democrats? Of course not, although some states did once ban interracial marriages. The right to have a consensual loving relationship recognized by the state should be accorded to everyone. Government should not interfere with such private matters.

And those who argue that same-sex marriages pose a threat to heterosexual marriages are talking nonsense. Divorce rates pose the threat, not stable relationships between loving people.

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing or providing federal benefits for same-sex couples married in states where such unions are legal. At the same time, it also declined in a California case to say whether state bans on gay marriage were constitutional or not. While not a clear victory for same-sex marriage advocates, the ruling did mean that California became the 13th state to permit same-sex marriage.

Since those rulings, federal courts have struck down state bans in 11 states. Now, it’s Wisconsin’s turn: The decision that same-sex couples in Wisconsin — and all who believe in equality — were awaiting finally came Friday afternoon. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

This was not just a victory for gay couples; it was a victory for equal rights for all Americans, and it follows a pattern from the civil rights era, when federal courts played a key role in striking down laws that had imposed second-class citizenship on African-Americans. These bans had done the same to gay couples; it’s good to see the bans meeting the same fate.

Van Hollen argues that Crabb’s ruling should be stayed so as not to create confusion for the nearly 300 couples who have been issued marriage licenses in Milwaukee and Dane counties since Friday’s ruling. Other counties are holding off on issuing such licenses, awaiting the state’s appeal. And, in truth, Crabb could have been clearer in her ruling, which, unlike other courts’ rulings, doesn’t explicitly say what county clerks should be doing. Crabb is asking for more information before deciding whether to stay her own decision while it is appealed. There is a chance the ruling will be stayed even though Crabb did deny Van Hollen’s request on Monday.

But Van Hollen only has a point if he appeals Crabb’s ruling. If he doesn’t, the argument and the confusion are over. He should refrain from such an appeal and recognize that Crabb’s ruling — like other such rulings across the country — is a victory for freedom for all Americans.


Green Bay Press-Gazette, June 9

Confusion over gay marriage ruling could have been avoided

Two hundred eighty-three same sex couples obtained marriage licenses between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in Wisconsin — 146 of them in Milwaukee, 137 in Madison, none in Green Bay, or any other county seat.

As Wisconsin’s third-largest county, Brown was unprepared to react to a federal judge ruling Friday afternoon that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Instead of issuing marriage licenses, county officials said they were awaiting word from the state on how to handle the issue. That word never came.

So by mid-morning Monday, the Brown County Clerk’s Office started issuing licenses and waived the five-day waiting period for $25. County Clerk Sandy Juno said her staff would work through their lunch hours to register people.

Same-sex couples started getting married.

It was a nice recovery after a rocky start, but it leaves us wondering: Why all the confusion? Why weren’t the state and the counties prepared to act on a ruling they knew was coming on Friday? And why the hesitation?

If a judge rules the state’s one-man, one-woman law to be unconstitutional, it seems logical that marriage license could be issued to same-sex couples, too.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen added to the confusion and the delays. He called Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling a “setback” and vowed to appeal. On Monday afternoon, he said the law was “in full force and effect” despite Crabb’s refusal to grant a stay.

He could have advised county clerks to go ahead with issuing marriage licenses with the warning that the ruling could be overturned.

Instead, Van Hollen filed an emergency motion for a temporary stay with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals saying he didn’t want “to subject any citizen to the stress and legal uncertainty that will result, as it has in other jurisdictions, if they are permitted to immediately contract marriages pursuant to a district court decision that may soon be reversed on appeal.”

Apparently, Van Hollen wants to spare these couples the heartbreak of having a marriage license nullified in an appeal.

But in so doing, he would deny them the joy of getting married.

Why not let the couples decide if they want to go through with it? Why not let them decide if the delight of getting married outweighs any potential disappointment down the line instead of letting the state AG act as the final arbiter of hurt feelings?

If you witnessed any of the proceedings, pictures or videos from Monday, you saw same-sex couples who were overjoyed to get their licenses and get married. There were tears and hugs as they were able to do the very thing denied two consenting adults of the same sexual orientation.

In her ruling, Crabb wrote that “Wisconsin laws prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples interfere with plaintiffs’ right to marry, in violation of the due process clause, and discriminate against plaintiffs on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the equal protection clause.”

There will be rulings on this matter, but in the meantime, it appears more and more county clerks are granting licenses as Wisconsin joins the ranks of states without same-sex marriage bans, states where marriage licenses are granted to consenting adults regardless of their sexual orientation.


Beloit Daily News, June 9

They deserve a perp walk

Automobiles are complicated machines. So are airplanes. Newspaper presses. Skyscraper elevators. Fire trucks.

You get the idea. Machines are machines, with lots of parts which sometimes fail. And, sometimes, parts fail because they were poorly engineered.

Laws are established to allow persons harmed by such failures to seek redress in the courts. Lawyers make a fine living helping injured parties win compensation for harm caused by someone else’s mistake.

But what happens when it’s more than a mistake?

General Motors has been pummeled for months after it was revealed company officials knew as early as 2004 that a faulty ignition switch was causing accidents and, indeed, deaths. An investigation has shown the severity of the danger was downplayed, with little urgency for taking definitive action. The situation coincided with GM’s long slump toward bankruptcy, which likely contributed to the sluggish response.

Today’s GM is a different company, and GM management deserves acknowledgment for firing several executives tainted by the scandal.

But again, the question: Is that enough?

No, it’s not. Failing — on purpose — to deal with a known and deadly problem matters.

Look, GM is a good company. GM makes great cars and trucks today. Tens of thousands of employees rely on the company, as well as tens of thousands more in support and supply industries. Tearing down GM over the mistakes of the past would hurt a lot of people who had nothing to do with it.

But those individuals who did have something to do with it deserve a perp-walk in handcuffs and a day in court. Looking the other way while people died, through some misguided corporate cost-benefit analysis, should be grounds for criminal prosecution.

The same goes for decision-makers at any other company tempted to put dollars over deaths. Anyone who knowingly participates in something like that has blood on their hands, just as much as a street thug with a gun, and should be treated accordingly.

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